This Old Campsite
This Old Campsite

It was the Friday after Easter in 2009. We were planning a short trip in our camper and I had a few small items that I needed to fix on the camper before we took our trip. Rain was in the forecast and the clouds were already getting heavy. My work would be done outside so there was a chance I would get wet but I decided to go out to the storage lot and take a chance on finishing before the rain started.

Our camper was stored in an outside storage lot with a high chain link fence surrounding the area. Each person who had something stored in the lot had an individual key to the locks on the two gates into the storage area. There were no video cameras installed and I knew that up front when I moved into the lot. The owner spent a lot of time at the lot and it is in a good area so I didn't feel uncomfortable not having security cameras.

Well, as I drove down the road beside the storage lot I noticed that my 36 foot Everest fifth wheel was not where I left it. Neither was the camper of my friend who kept his camper next to mine. Of course I thought this was strange and looked around to see if maybe I had come to the wrong place. After all, as you get older the mind gets a little dull and I could have been lost. However, everything looked familiar so I drove up to the gate and looked again for my camper. The lot isn't very large so it is easy to see most of the lot from any position. I was in disbelief and my mind was starting to become befuddled. Once again, the thought crossed my mind that I wasn't in the right place. I got out of the truck and put my key into the lock. It opened! Man, I must be in the correct place but where the hell is my camper and where is my friend's camper. I walked around the storage building in the middle of the lot, but no trailer.

I grabbed my cell phone and called my friend to ask him where his camper was since I knew that he wasn't out camping. I was thinking that both of our trailers had been stolen. He said that he came out Sunday after Easter dinner and picked up his camper so that he could take it in for repair Monday morning. When I told him that it appeared that mine had been stolen he said that it was in the lot Sunday afternoon when he came to the lot. The owner of the lot was there early Monday morning and he noticed that my camper was gone. He didn't think anything about it since we come and go quite a bit. Therefore, we deduced that the trailer was stolen Easter Sunday evening.

Now I'm in real disbelief and I feel like I'm having an out of body experience. Where is my camper? Maybe I took it in for maintenance and just don't remember. I called my wife and asked her if I had taken the camper in for maintenance. She thought I was kidding or maybe I was finally loosing my mind for good. “No, the camper should be in the storage lot,” she replied. So I again told her that the camper really wasn't in the lot and was either stolen or I took it in for maintenance and just flat couldn't remember. My next call was to the maintenance facility where we have it worked on. “No, Mr. Fuller, we haven't seen your camper.” About 30 minutes had passed since I first noticed that the camper wasn't in the storage lot. I now had to accept the fact that the camper really was stolen. It was hard for me to believe that someone would pull up to a 13,000 pound fifth wheel trailer and steal it. I just didn't believe that something like this could happen especially to me!

Now I had to start the process of reporting the theft. First I called the owner of the storage lot to report the loss to him. He was as shocked as I since he had never had anything stolen from his storage facility. He said that he was close by and would come out immediately.  When he arrived I called the sheriff's department to have an officer come out and take the police report. During the conversation with the officer he told me that my camper was the fourth one stolen in the last 30 days. All four were in the same county. I had never heard of a camper being stolen and now I became one of the statistics.

Having a camper stolen, or anything for that matter, is a traumatic experience. Not only was the camper stolen but there was a lot of personal items that had been collected over the previous seven years that went missing. After we received our insurance settlement we bought a new camper. So the question comes to mind....will this trailer be stolen? What can I do to prevent that from happening again?

The internet is a great place to share ideas with fellow RVers. After posting on several forums I found that camper theft is much more prevalent than I would have thought. I also found that camper dealerships are not immune from having their campers stolen. We visited several dealers who told us that they had campers stolen right off of their lot. One guy had a camper stolen from a camper show! Don't ask. I don't remember how they did it.

The question of the day is “How do you protect your camper from being stolen?” I received some interesting answers from the internet. One guy says that he removes his tires and puts the camper on blocks while it is in storage. He did admit that he was getting tired of moving those heavy tires around.  Another person who had a camper stolen uses a very large chain and locks it to a steel post in the storage lot. The most obvious way is to use a kingpin lock in the case of a fifth wheel or a tongue lock in the case of a travel trailer. Protecting your motor home would be about the same as any vehicle that you own.

In my quest for the perfect lock I found that there is quite a range of locks available. Not all locks are created equal nor are they priced the same. Some locks are just fancy pad locks that go around the kingpin. Others are cylinders that fit over the kingpin and have a locking mechanism to keep it in place. Of the cylinder locks, they come in different flavors depending on how much you are willing to spend. I found a company that makes a conical lock that covers the kingpin and uses a special key that can't be duplicated. The company started by selling their locks to businesses who use18 wheelers. It appears to me to be the best of the breed, but it is expensive. So is a large fifth wheel trailer! I bought one of those locks. It looks really good on the kingpin of my fifth wheel!

Other methods of securing a trailer include the“boot”. I found several companies that sell these mechanisms and they also come in different configurations. The idea is to cover the wheel and have an extension that prevents the wheel from turning. The cover also prevents the lugs from being removed so the thief can't change tires and haul the camper off. Some of the least expensive wheel locks don't have the cover so it would be easy to remove the wheel and put on a spare tire. With that in mind, you could use the inexpensive lock and put one on each wheel. Surely the thief wouldn't come with 4 spare tires?

So what if the thief manages to bypass your locks and haul your trailer down the road? It would be nice to at least be able to find your trailer or maybe be notified that your trailer is moving and your not pulling it. This brings up the GPS technology. Again as with the locks, there are several different approaches to using GPS. The major draw back to using ordinary GPS is that the receiver needs line of site to see the satellite. Some companies provide an installation whereby they run a wire covertly through the trailer to an antenna on the roof. The next problem for GPS units is that they need power to work. If your trailer is parked in a storage lot and you don't have access to electricity the GPS battery will run down in a few weeks and you loose your protection. Also, if you park under a covered area the GPS can't see the satellite.

There is now a technology called assisted GPS that uses a combination of cell phone and GPS. This is great! It allows the unit to be inside your camper and the camper can be inside a building and probably work. If it is in a building, it would have to be close to a cell tower to get a good signal. Basically the unit works either by GPS or cell phone triangulation. It keeps you from having to run a wire to an antenna on the top of the trailer. These units are fairly small and can be hidden almost anywhere in your trailer. The downside is that they can't be plugged into an electrical outlet since they are battery operated. However, the batteries are rechargeable and can last up to three weeks or more depending on the unit.

As I said there are different units that perform differently. You have to look at the features they offer and decide what is best for you. Most of the units allow you to build a geographical fence around your camper. If the camper moves out of that electronic fence the unit can email you, send a text message or even call your cell phone or home phone. If your camper is stolen all you need to do is go to your computer, log on to a website and locate your camper.

There is an assisted GPS system built by DeWalt (the tool maker) that works a little different. Instead of building a geographical fence around the camper it has a vibration sensor that will go off when the camper is moved. It also has a tamper sensor; a door sensor feature and an audible siren that will go off when the unit is set off. Once the unit is tripped it will send emails to three different devices and call up to three different phone numbers. What I really like about this system is that as soon as a truck is backed into the kingpin or there is enough vibration from someone beating on the camper it will email you and call your phone. If you are close enough to your storage unit you might be able to beat the thief to the front gate. This is the system that I have. I have it set to call my home phone first and then two cell phones. Someone will always be at one of those numbers.

Another thing that needs to be discussed about the GPS location systems is that there is a monthly monitoring fee with most of them. I did see one system that did not have a monthly fee but only charged when you send a location request. Each location request is about 50 cents. Most of the high end GPS location systems are designed for fleet owners who need to keep track of their equipment. However, they usually have a scaled down version for people like us who are just trying to keep track of one piece of equipment. If you wonder about the Lojack system, I did look at it. The only problem is that they do not cover the entire US.

As you can see, there are things available to RV owners to help protect their trailer. Whether you go with just a kingpin lock or a wheel lock or a combination lock and GPS system, you truly need to do something. You can also go completely nuts and take all four (or more) tires off the trailer and put it on blocks. In my opinion the lock and GPS location system is the way to go. In my case my trailer had been gone almost a week. If I had not gone to the lot it could have been weeks before I knew the trailer was missing. With a GPS system you can check it everyday from home to make sure that it is still where you left it. If it is stolen and you have immediate notification, you stand a much better chance of recovering the trailer before it has been taken to a deer lease, to Mexico or used for a Meth Lab. If your trailer is gone for over a week you don't want it back!

So what's the bottom line here? Can you definitely prevent your camper from being stolen? Probably not. If a thief really wants something they will find a way get it. All anyone can do is try to make it as hard as possible for a thief to steal from you. If it is too much work maybe they will go next door to an easier target. I did not have any type of lock on my trailer before it was stolen. Neither did anyone else in the storage lot where I kept the trailer. I don't store the camper there anymore, but the last time I checked that lot every camper there has a kingpin or tongue lock.

If you don't think your camper can be stolen, think again! Do yourself a favor and do your best to protect your camper and it's contents. It is a big investment, and it's yours!

Additional resources:
Brickhouse Security
Trailer Alarms

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Trailer Theft...It Could Happen to You
   Brad Fuller